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My garden is freaking me out a bit

I bought my house last October, which was post-garden season. This is what I saw: a tiny backyard, maybe 12 feet by 10 feet, lined on two sides with empty flower boxes, and surrounded by a fence.

Not much, I thought, but I could grow morning glories and marigolds, squeeze in a barbecue and a table and chair, and be perfectly happy out there.

flower boxI got my seeds started indoors a few weeks ago. The first batch committed suicide, so I tried again. By the time they were ready to transplant, my back yard had completely changed. I had hundreds of gigantic dandelions and other stuff growing from the cracks in the tiles. The flower boxes were exploding with life. My tiny back yard was suddenly full.

Flower box and treeYou would think that in a back yard as small as mine, I would have noticed the trees before now. No. It turns out I have two trees.

I managed to make room for the morning glory seedlings. Within a day or two, the squirrels had dug them all up and left their limp little bodies everywhere. I’ve done battle with squirrels before, mostly on balconies. It’s an unwinnable battle because I have a job and they don’t. I have to leave my garden unguarded for nine hours a day. Still, I planted more seeds.

The vine thingsAs for the things growing in the flower boxes: I think they’re weeds. My unfortunate experience with gardens is that if something is doing very well, it’s almost certainly a weed. Some of the vine plants have climbed out of the flower boxes, scrambled across the tiled back yard, and climbed up the house. I tried to remove a couple of them, but when I pulled on their ropey stems, the entire flower box heaved and threatened to fall apart.

the neighbour's thing spilling overMy plan for morning glories climbing my fence has been thwarted not only by the squirrels, but also by something spilling over from the neighbour’s side of the fence – I don’t know what it is, but it has talons and it’s advancing a couple of feet each day.

My son gave me a barbecue for Christmas and it’s in the backyard. I don’t think there’s room for a table and chair after all. If things keep going the way they are, the vine things will probably claim the barbecue and seal the back door shut by July.

The front walkwayThe front yard: Most of my neighbours have tidy little flower beds lining their walkways. I have this wild jumble of something that is taking over my side of the shared walkway. Do you recognize it? Is it a good thing, or is it a weed on steroids? Should I take a machete to it? I fear it’s only a matter of time until my walkway becomes inpenetrable and the mailman stops coming.

What is this? Here’s a close-up of it. I need someone to identify it before it’s too late.

(My previous gardening experience is limited to containers on balconies. I did have a house once, briefly, up near Wakefield, with an acre of land. However I was married to someone at the time who thought the only good garden was the kind that you paid someone else $5000 to plant and then referred to as ‘landscaping.’)

16 comments to My garden is freaking me out a bit

  • Deb

    You sound like me when it comes to gardens…the close up looks pretty. I have bought houses and left the weeds for one year to be able to identify them, only to find out that they actually are weeds. The farmer who has been renting our land had it ploughed and seeded last week. Yesterday I went out to the edge and raked in a few Lavatera (Rose Mallow) seed packages and some sunflowers. We will see what happens. The front garden has a lot of stuff going on too, but I only recognise a few items (delphiniums, something that looks like lamb’s ears but Rob thinks are weeds, some irises, lots of dandelions, thistles and grass) The ground is so hard it is tough to weed. Plus this weather doesn’t make me want to stay out longer than a few minutes at a time. good luck and maybe, you want to stick to container gardening again this year while you try to identify what you already have planted in the ground.

  • Gillian

    Deb has a good suggestion. Containers this year while you find out what’s happening. I don’t recognize what’s in your photo, but normally you can thin out the stems nearest the path. It’s pretty common. And in the back garden, you can probably trim off what is coming from your neighbour. You could try pouring large quantities of vinegar along between the stones, but dandelions are a problem. If you dig them up individually, very straight down, not wide, you’ll have the best luck. Weed when the ground is damp. When the dandelions are between stones, it’s tough. If the stones tend to be green, (sort of mouldy) wash them down with bleach. I’m going to be trying vinegar this summer where I’ve got stuff to kill off. I don’t like using major chemicals as I have two dogs.

  • Annie

    The vine on your fence is Virginia Creeper. It’s tenacious and can grow 20-30 feet in a season. Hack it back to keep it at bay or it will carpet your back yard. The mystery plant in your front yard looks like goutweed. The variegated form (green and white) is quite common but you have the the non-variegated form. Goutweed is not really a good thing: it’s very invasive and hard to get rid of. You have to dig out every last root or it’ll keep coming back.
    Happy gardening!

  • Oh, those are terrific suggestions Deb and Gillian, very helpful. I like the idea of sticking with container gardens while I sort all this stuff out.

    Annie, thanks so much for identifying my freaky plants! I read your comment last night just before I went to bed, and then googled Virginia Creeper and Goutweed. YIKES! I thought I was going to have nightmares after reading that stuff.

    It’s too bad squirrels don’t eat Virginia Creeper and Goutweed…it could work out so well if only my enemies would pit themselves against one another.

    Anyway, thanks again, at least now I know what I’m up against.

  • You could make friends with the creeper and the goutweed.

  • From what I’ve been reading Robin, the only way I could be friends with the creeper and the goutweed is if I don’t want to be friends with any other plants or my front lawn or my neighbours.

  • Some would consider that a reasonable tradeoff :)

  • I like things that grow up buildings to some degree, but I too have a bit of a crazy and fast growth going on right now. Things are starting to bloom though – we have purple (“bearded”?) irises, some other (yet to bloom) irises, holly hocks(sp?), bleeding hearts, jacobs ladder, and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve been told we have but can’t remember the names. The dandelions are under control here, though we need to get our weed-eater going to trim back some of the grass that grows through the rock beds and amongst the carpet tyme.

    We are foregoing any major cut backs of anything until fall when we have a better idea of what everything is.


  • Avis

    Virginia creeper isn’t so bad. Most of the bad stuff that’s written about it comes from people leaving in warmer climates, where it really does get out of control. In Ottawa, it’s manageable, and it will turn a deep red in the fall.

  • kerr

    Oh I love Virginia Creeper! Hack it back to where you want it but its beautiful (especially in fall when it turns red and speckly) and useful in hiding stuff you don’t like – I’d love some growing on our walls! Its much easier to get going than any ivy too.

  • kerr

    Oh and chipmunks have dug up my morning glories too, I’m hoping some of them still make it but I’m not holding my breathe!

  • Kerr, did you know that quite a few people can’t brush up against Virginia Creeper (or goutweed for that matter) without breaking into itchy oozing welts and swollen eyes that seal themselves shut for days afterwards?

    Fortunately I’m not one of those people.

  • kerr


    Very interesting! It doesn’t affect me, but then I’m not sensitive to poison ivy either.

  • Jo (from Illinois, USA)

    Zoom, here’s a page I ‘Googled’ for you for Virginia Creeper (which others have already told you is the BIG climber). And it does turn red in the fall, very pretty from the photos I’ve seen. I think I had it wild in my Illinois yard once but back then I thought it was poison ivy (which of course it’s not even related) and pulled it out. I have that too thanks to the birds and have a young vine I need to pull by the garage now.

    Anyway, VC is desirable for many people since it’s a lovely vine, though quite aggressive and needs to be kept in check. What EVER you do NEVER plant Oriental Bittersweet!!! I did a few years back and afterwards found that it was EXTREMELY aggressive and INVASIVE and can even choke out wooded areas (very much like Kudzu, also from the orient, brought to the Southern states in my country). And Kudzu‚Äôs been called the plant that ATE the south. After planting the oriental bittersweet I heard about our native Bittersweet which is not aggressive at all, but it was way too late and I have NO doubt that the oriental I’d planted has been reseeded by birds in the wild trees near us. I cut mine all to the ground but seedlings continue popping up as well as the roots sprout in neighboring areas of the yard. Eventually we’ll kill it off but sadly it’ll never really be gone. And goodness only knows what damage it will do to the trees in the future.

    Here’s the URL for VC at Google. My suggestion to find out what the other plants coming up are is to Google ‘weeds of’ or ‘wild plants of’ or maybe ‘rural wild plants of’ Canada. You’ll be amazed at the number of good web sites you’ll find. This particular URL will bring up photos.,GGLG:2006-10,GGLG:en&hl=en&q=Virginia+Creeper&um=1&sa=N&tab=wi

    Good luck,

  • Jo (from Illinois, USA)


    I submitted a comment a minute ago but it was denied by the ‘blog administrator’. Do you know why that would happen and how I can contact the blog administrator?


  • […] A couple of months ago I posted pictures of my garden in the hopes that someone could idenitfy the strange things growing in it. Annie kindly did so, though the news was not good: most of what was growing was invasive weeds (Virginia Creeper in the back and Goutweed in the front). […]